Right now I have no plans of injecting CO2 or using Excel. Should I?
I've given injecting CO2 (both diy and pressurized) a serious thought and decided I wouldnt be able to maintain that kind of a setup. As a kid in the 80s I had a planted tank with no CO2/no Excel and amazons were thriving so I have that success story always with me. So when I rebooted my hobby in 2013 I always wanted a simple settup.
To answer your question: its really a personal evaluation. can you devote that much time/money etc to maintaining and monitoring things so many times every week? Its a balancing act.
I am in India so a lot of the products available in the US arent available to me - e.g. Excel and root fert tabs. So I have to think of other ways to do things.
I would say for you if you want to keep the setup low maintenance, do the following:
gravel substrate, root fert tabs for the heavy root feeding plants (e.g. amazons), liquid ferts for non (heavy) root feeders such as java moss, anubias. with this you should be able to have plants which require less care.
keep lights around 1.5 WPG but these days people say thats not a rule to be followed but works for me.
Also I dont vacuum out the mulm that builds up, just let it collect, its food for the plants and not cleaning it reduces my maintenance work a lot. People find root fert tabs also a big expy in the long run but there are DIY recipes for them too which turn out more reasonable. you can use commercial root tabs to start with and later experiment with DIY after your plants are established.
From what I read, seems like Excel doesnt work for all plant species but for the ones it does work, it gives good results.
if you want fancy plants such as a lush carpet, red plants, etc thats the high tech story & you need to go with CO2, hi lights, etc.
And I have gravel as substrate. And those tips are very helpful, thank you!
I am glad to help and tell you what worked for me, been experimenting the past 5 months to get some success since Dec
what is the grain size of your gravel?
gravel by itself is inert, it doesnt provide any nutrients to the plants, neither does it store nutrients. something such as Eco Complete (has high CEC) is a substrate that absorbs and stores nutrient for later use by plants but its more expy. if you go with gravel, root tabs will help as mentioned above. i've read people in the US do that and have got good results.
the other substrate is dirt (the Walstad method) but please read and see if you want to do that. i have a walstad experimental tank going for the past 6 weeks - where I have one more challenge - Miracle Gro is not availalble in India
If I am uncertain how a particular method will work out, if possible I do an experiment around it on a small scale such as in a bowl. hope this helps.